The 11 basic steps to reading a poem

Step 1: Read through the poem to get a sense of it.

Step 2: Identify the sentences and independent clauses (circle the periods, exclamation points, question marks, and semicolons). For some reason, people always forget that poetry is made up of complete sentences.

Step 3: Read a few lines to figure out the meter (figure out how many stresses there are in a typical line).

Step 4: Note the rhyme scheme (look for a pattern).

Step 5: Read the poem out loud. Try to follow the rhythm. If you do this you'll hear where the poet plays with the rhythm. And you'll hear the rhyme scheme.

Step 6: Look up any words you don't understand.

Step 7: Re-read the poem out loud.

Step 8: Mark off any sections in the poem. These sections may be speeches given by a character, discussions of a particular topic, changes in mood, or a new stage of an argument.

Step 9: Re-read the poem.

Step 10: Figure out the tone -- the emotion -- of the poem.

Step 11: Re-read the poem.

So far you haven't done any analysis. But you've got a rich understanding of the poem. You know how it works as verse, and you've probably read the poem the way the poet meant it to be read.

How To Read a Poem Out Loud

1) From http://www.loc.gov/poetry/180/p180-howtoread.html

Listen to former Poet Laureate Billy Collins talk about reading a poem.

No doubt, most of the readers will be students with little or no experience in reading poetry out loud, especially to such a large group. And we know that a poem will live or die depending on how it is read. What follows, then, are a few pointers about the oral recitation of poetry. The readers, by the way, should not read cold; they should be given their poem a few days in advance so they will have time to practice, maybe in the presence of a teacher… Here are a few basic tips:

Read the poem slowly. Most adolescents speak rapidly, and a nervous reader will tend to do the same in order to get the reading over with. Reading a poem slowly is the best way to ensure that the poem will be read clearly and understood by its listeners. Learning to read a poem slowly will not just make the poem easier to hear; it will underscore the importance in poetry of each and every word. A poem cannot be read too slowly, and a good way for a reader to set an easy pace is to pause for a few seconds between the title and the poem's first line.

Read in a normal, relaxed tone of voice. It is not necessary to give any of these poems a dramatic reading as if from a stage. The poems selected are mostly written in a natural, colloquial style and should be read that way. Let the words of the poem do the work. Just speak clearly and slowly.

Obviously, poems come in lines, but pausing at the end of every line will create a choppy effect and interrupt the flow of the poem's sense. Readers should pause only where there is punctuation, just as you would when reading prose, only more slowly.

Use a dictionary to look up unfamiliar words and hard-to-pronounce words. To read with conviction, a reader needs to know at least the dictionary sense of every word. In some cases, a reader might want to write out a word phonetically as a reminder of how it should sound. It should be emphasized that learning to read a poem out loud is a way of coming to a full understanding of that poem, perhaps a better way than writing a paper on the subject.

2. How do you read poetry? Poetry is written to be heard. In the 1800s, it was common for people to get together and read poetry to each other.

The poem wasn't simply a piece of language that conveyed data; it was meant to be heard the way a song was meant to be sung.
In order to read poetry well, though, you need to know a little about prosody. Prosody is the theory of rhyme and meter.
Knowing prosody is to poetry what reading sheet music is to music.

Poems can be broken down into 3 parts.

The Stanza: a group of lines set off from the other lines in a poem. The poetic equivalent of a paragraph. In traditional poems, the stanza usually contains a unit of thought, much like a paragraph.
The Line: a single line of poetry.
The Foot: a syllable or a group of 2 or 3 syllables. Typically a foot will contain a stressed and an unstressed syllable.

To scan a line of poetry (that means to hear the rhythm) you count the number of feet in a line. For a beginner, the easiest thing to do is to count the number of stresses. This doesn't always work (some feet contain 2 stresses), but it will work often enough to give you the feel of the poem, which is all that we're after at this point.

In verse (traditional, formal poetry), there will be a regular pattern to the rhythm. Often, all the lines in a poem will contain the same number of feet. For example, in a sonnet, all the lines will have 5 feet. In many cases, though, a poet might alternate between lines with 4 feet and lines with 3 feet. And in other cases, the patterns will be more complex. But unless you are reading free verse, there will be a pattern and you need to identify it.

For a more thorough discussion of prosody, check out Tina Blue's web page "A Beginner's Guide to Prosody: Part 1."